It has long been the stated aspiration of copyright to make authors the masters of their own destiny. Yet more often than not, the real subject of American copyright is distributors, book publishers, record labels, broadcasters, and others, who control the rights, bring the lawsuits, and take copyright as their industries' 'life-sustaining protection.'
This paper offers a new theory and defense of the role of authors and authorial copyright in the copyright system. I argue that the device of making authors rights-bearers can seed new modes of production in the industries under copyright. Rights-bearing authors can, in other words, help unsettle industry structure, by taking their rights to competitive disseminators or new modes of dissemination. Recent examples include the role of authorial rights in the rise of open source software and creative commons, while older examples include the rise of competing publishers in 18th century England.